Keeping up with the TALONS

Algonquin Park HDR

And these paintings are not landscape paintings. Because there aren’t any landscapes up there, not in the old, tidy European sense, with a gentle hill, a curving river, a cottage, a mountain in the background, a golden evening sky. Instead there’s a tangle, a receding maze, in which you can become lost almost as soon as you step off the path. There are no backgrounds in any of these paintings, no vistas; only a great deal of foreground that goes back and back, endlessly, involving you in its twists and turns of tree and branch and rock. No matter how far back in you go, there will be more. And the trees themselves are hardly trees; they are currents of energy, charged with violent colour.

Death by Landscape Margaret Atwood

During this past week’s study of short stories, our class has delved into more than one class-that-runs-past-the-bell in dissection of Canadian works, Margaret Atwood’s “Death by Landscape,” and Alistair MacLeod’s “To Every Thing There is a Season.” Beginning with the discussion of the each story’s basic literary pieces – its characters, conflict, plot, setting and point of view – the class has ranged in conversation of the Canadian identity, the nature of growing up, the importance of stories, and literature’s ability to illuminate who we are as individuals, citizens and members of the human race. Beginning today though our class began to merge this conversation with the online – technology supplementing face to face instruction, dialogue and interaction – and moved to the students’ blogs, with each student posting a defense of their theme statement for MacLeod’s Cape Breton Christmas novella “To Everything There is a Season.”

But this is only one way our class is engaged in social networking and online dialogue. The means of this digital conversation:

On Seeking Eminent People

Every year our class participates in an Eminent Person Study to fulfill components of English and Socials curriculum. As well, the project’s culmination in the Night of the Notables, where our grade ten students (the class is almost evenly divided between grade nine &  ten gifted students who attend our school from all over the district) become their studied people and answer questions in a 30 minute wine-and-cheese style banquet, and then deliver brief addresses – remaining in character – on any aspect of their eminence or life for peers and parents, as well as friends, teachers, administrators and the odd school board trustee.

Needless to say it is a big night, and one of the rites of passage in our two-year program (along with the class’ Fall Retreat, In-Depth Study and Adventure Trip) that calls upon our students to truly explore their potential in the face of hesitation, fear or momentary lapses in confidence. As with these other keystone hallmarks of the program, the Night of the Notables dates back to the original incarnation of gifted education in our district – a locally developed curriculum I was lucky enough to be a part of in 1994-1996 – and the resources handed down to our classroom: yellowed pages of brimming binders, contain programs for the evening dating back to the early 1980’s.

In my own participation in the project, I remember my own teacher going into detail as to the importance of the young women in our class studying eminent females, citing the lack of Herstory (a term I was hearing for the first time at fourteen) in our classrooms and media and a handout I photocopied yesterday.

But since I have been teaching the program – the last three years – I have noticed an increasing fervour around the notion of females wishing to study men. Though a certain amount of this has much to do with the gulf of understanding that exists between any adult and teenager (where each believes they are acting reasonably and rationally, and yet comes across to the other as someone born quite literally yesterday, without prior experience in human interaction),  I marvel at the energy with which their opposition to studying eminence along gender lines grows.

This year there are four students (out of 28) wishing to study eminent people of the opposite sex; three females wishing to study men, and a young man wanting to study a female. In my estimation it is the highest number yet.

Knowing that a good many female students historically faced with the prospect of studying a historical person will (reflexively?) select a male is a matter of historical authorship than a lack of female accomplishment, I generally approach such ambitions by proposing that the student make a case for the person in question as the best available choice.

Criteria arrises out of many things: chiefly, the potential to teach the student about the world, the nature of giftedness, and achievement based on one’s own individual measurement of success. Even in other cases – if I feel a student’s choice is arbitrary, or hastily made – I follow a similar line of questioning. But gender, as an identifying characteristic and means by which our society continues to intrinsically marginalize women, remains a major factor in the selection process.  The research on this is extensive, and it is astounding on many levels that nearly every female in my class (with any prediliction for debate) so vehemently opposez the recognition of different cultural expectations for women.

It could be a matter of age, my teaching partner and I agree. As does The Happy Feminist, who blogs:

Back when I was an adolescent, I militated against the idea that the lack of female role models in certain disciplines is a problem for young girls.  I felt vaguely insulted at the notion that I was expected to identify only with people of the same sex as I.  At thirteen, when I had to write an essay about my role models, I made a point of including Leonardo da Vinci as well as Elizabeth I.   I felt that there was no reason I shouldn’t be just as inspired by or identify just as strongly with a man of achievement as a woman of achievement.

And so inevitably I am “pitched” female studies of the likes of Walt Disney, Marilyn Manson or Charles Darwin, and have yet to rule against the students’ final decisions, one way or the other.  Merely, I make a practice of asking the students wishing to cross the gender line demonstrate passion for their choice in writing or conversation, a description of one of the following:

  • A letter or essay outlining the student’s choice as the only acceptable person worth studying; or
  • A list of five people of the student’s gender who could be considered members of the same field as the original selection, and why they are unacceptable for study. 

I tell them to enter such discussions knowing that I will be supporting the women on their lists because I believe it is important for them to have strong female role models. And yet  a group of a dozen or so (most of whom have no vested interest in the cause as they are studying members of their own sex, but who – as do nearly all of my gifted wonders – rabidly devour any and all topics of debate and argument at all times) hang around until four debating the motivations and underpinnings of my seemingly Draconian and arbitrary regulation.

But it is not all so bad. I tell them that in the end the choice is theirs; I only want them to make their decision with consideration of as much surrounding information as they can, and to make the one true to themselves. Sometimes it even works out.

Resources for Seeking (Female) Eminence

Women’s International Centre | Biography Index – Women’s International Center [WIC] was founded in 1982 as a non-profit education and service foundation [501c3] with the mission to ‘acknowledge, honor, encourage and educate women’. Since its inception WIC has fulfilled its purpose in many ways. Beginning in 1983 the LIVING LEGACY AWARDS began to ACKNOWLEDGE, HONOR and ENCOURAGE WOMEN.

Canadian Mathematical Society | Women’s Biographies – Many biographies of women mathematicians may be found at the extensive History of Mathematics collection, at St Andrews University, Scotland. Others (many modern) are listed at the Women Mathematicians Project, at Agnes Scott College, U.S.A. 4000 Years of Women in Science lists several women mathematicians (with photos). A few biographies of women mathematicians have been published in mathNEWS, the University of Waterloo Faculty of Mathematics student newspaper. A text called Math Odyssey 2000 by Clem Falbo for a liberal arts course provides a few others. For a print listing, see Biographies of Women Mathematical Scientists and History of Women in Mathematical Sciences from the Women in Math Project (directed by Marie Vitulli). Another list: Distinguished Women of Past and Present: Mathematics, a collection by Danuta Bois. 

The Collective Biographies of Women –  This is an exhaustive annotated bibliography of the more than 930 books published in English (in Britain, the United States, and elsewhere in the Anglophone world) between 1830 and 1940 that collect three or more women’s biographies. Two selective chronological bibliographies feature all-female collective biographies published before 1830 and after 1940 (the list is exhaustive through 1950). These books, written by more men than women, feature a surprising range of historical, legendary, literary, or biblical subjects, of many ages and lands and many kinds of achievement.

 Know of any resources that would be of further use to this discussion? Add the tag eminentperson to any Delicious bookmarks to share!

A New Blogging Year

In an effort to more fully implement the philosophy of our two-year gifted program (grade nine & ten) and its discovery-based interdisciplinary appraoch to study, I began thinking – months ago, even – about ways to integrate Personal Learning Networks and social media into the English and Socials curriculum. With a history textbook that is more than fifteen years old (with especially dated chapters on the 1997 British Columbia economy and the Pacific Rim trade alliances) and young minds eager to take ownership over uniquely passionate and individual courses of study within the government’s curriculum (which accross both subjects is trending toward a critical thinking which emphasizes the vetting, sifting and production of content, information, and meaning inherent in many of the challenges and triumphs of navigating the read-write web and the shifting informational landscape), I have long anticipated this fall’s introduction to student blogging which launched yesterday in our school’s library.

With the help of Edublogs.org’s wonderful Getting Started resource, the class set out to draft either their Personal Mission Statement (incorporated from a lesson of Planning 10 in the previous block) or create  their About page on their blog (each assignment needs to be completed, but for those squeamish about the public nature of the form, the Mission Statement need not at this point be published publically).

Immediately the range of personality in our class has led to these first two  examples I am sharing below in the hopes that they might garner your comments, attention, or feedback for these young writers newly on their journey into blogging.

  • Louise has made a visualliteral representation of her mission statement, and has left the posting as a page, acting as a great introduction to her personality, goals and sense of the world that will serve her future blog audiences.
  • I love the way Katie has made an assorted list of interests, quotes, questions and ambiguities she intends to tackle this coming year (life…?). A thorough and engagingly written first post!

I will amend the post as further examples go up in the next few days, so be sure to check back!

Oudoor Networks

I spent the better part of last week in the woods.

With my teaching partner and our 27 students – one left behind to combat continued health issues – and my youngest sister in tow, we left school just after 6:30 Thursday morning and made our way with the help of assorted parent-drivers and a U-Haul to the local ferry terminal. We were on our way to the island.

Once across the Straight of Juan de Fuca, we set out south on 29 bicycles down the Galloping Goose Trail, a gravelly path that connects Sydney to Victoria through bright groves of maple and alder forests lined with California poppies and views of the Cascades to the south. Our aim was Goldstream Provincial Park, some sixty kilometers from the dock; we were under our own steam, and spent more than six hours reaching our destination in time to set up camp, make dinner, and light a dim campfire before dark and a much needed rest. Immediately, our students were transformed from a group who studied theoretically to one which was required to make practical use of the concepts of planning and leadership curriculum, as well as the deeper pursuits of team building and self-awareness. Outside the classroom, the concepts, quotations and ‘wisdom’ of our course’s methods became tested in real time.

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or it it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion.”

Henry David Thoreau

More than someone who aggressively enjoys nature, I am a teacher who would not be doing what I am if not for my participation in outdoor education. Throughout university I made steady practice of camping at every opportunity, stealing away from Little Rock on weekends (and more than a few weekdays) to sleep amongst the cicadas and brown recluses of the Ozark wilderness. For three years I balanced my burgeoning career as entertainment editor of my school’s paper and liberating study of creative writing (after a short-lived stint as a chemistry major) with hours spent exploring the Buffalo and White Rivers, Greers Ferry Lake while down south, and making a home of the Sea-to-Sky corridor and Duffy Lake Road when back at home. At twenty one, I was introduced to Christopher McCandless through the pages of John Krakaur’s excellent book, Into the Wild, and felt a kindered spirit in the waderlusting youth who did nothing to help me remain faithful to my studies – not to mention decimating my ambitions of employment post-graduation.

But this managed to change one summer morning when my track coach – long frustrated with the string of injuries I had incurred since arriving at the age of seventeen – called from Arkansas to tell me about a scholarship opportunity in need of male applicants. Enter my tenure with the Boy Scouts of America, as my fellowship in the newly-created scholars program enlisted me to participate in not only 160 hours of community service (difficult with my athletic schedule) but a summer-internship as well, which saw me living for seven consecutive weeks in the northwestern wilds of Arkansas with some sixty young “teachers.” As the primary means for many Scouts to earn more intensive merit badges – lifesaving, sailing, orienteering, wilderness survival, shotgun (seriously) – summer camp ran as five days of hour-long instructional classes scattered across the Gus Blass Scout Reservation’s 3500 acres. I worked there for three summers, garnering a great deal of respect for our relationship to the natural world and how, when community is achieved between people in its company, we each live out some of our best selves.

“Look well of to-day – for it is the Life of Life. In its brief course lie all the variations and realities of your life – the bliss of growth, the glory of action, the splendor of beauty. For Yesterday is but a dream, and Tomorrow a vision. But To-day well-lived makes every Yesterday a dream of happiness, and every To-morrow a vision of hope. For Time is but a scene in the eternal drama. So, look well of To-day, and let that be your resolution as you awake each morning and salute the New Dawn. Each day is born by the recurring miracle of Dawn, and each night reveals the celestial harmony of the stars.”

Mike the Logger

I learned much of leading and exercising my own potential in these groups built in the woods, and brought just as much enthusiasm to my early classrooms as I did to afternoon workshops of the rudimentary breast stroke and fetching the weight from the deep end in the cicada-bordered lake. The past two years I have enjoyed “Adventure Trips” with my class: student-organized – from menus to daily itineraries, cleaning rosters and the procuring of equipment – trips focused around the physical challenges offered out of doors. Faced with the common struggle of the island’s roadways, the class fought with their bikes and aching muscles, triumphs and personal limitations, supporting one another in the learning process which like life is universal and yet resolutely individual to each of us.

“Our task was to represent an island in the world, a prototype perhaps, or at least a prospect of a different way of life. I, who had been isolated for so long, learned about the companionship which is possible between people who have tasted complete loneliness. I never again hankered after the tables of the fortunate and the feasts of the blessed. Never again did envy or nostalgia overcome me when I witnessed the collective pleasures of others. And gradually I was initiated into the secret of those who wear the sign in their faces. We who wore the sign might justly be considered ‘odd’ by the world; yes, even crazy, and dangerous. We were aware, or in the process of becoming aware, and our striving was directed toward achieving a more and more complete state of awareness while the striving of others was a quest aimed at binding their opinions, ideals, duties, their lives and fortunes more and more closely to those of the herd.”

Hermann Hesse 

As it serves to end our class’ year together – when our grade tens will move on into the general student body, and the grade nines will move up to become mentors to the incoming nines – the adventure trip begins as a practical examination of teamwork and the group members’ individual challenges, and yet invariably ends as an adjourning ceremony whereby each student – and teacher, and sister visiting the group as extra mandated supervision – recognizes their worth in the eyes of others, and acknowledges the worth of community. As eluded to in my recent post about comprehensive assessment methods, this is the underlying focus and the intrinsic value of our program’s model: that one’s struggle in life is a personal one, that growth is individual, yet supported by others, and that trust in one’s self, one’s peer’s and one’s environment is key. Our education system is struggling to find ways to form students as active learners, willing to take risks and invest themselves in collaborative projects involving critical thinking and problem solving. When asked how such outcomes might be met, the act of unplugging and experiencing the natural world may still provide the greatest teacher.

After all, it may be an old idea which allows us to move forward. Seth Godin at TED:

 

Comprehensive Assessment and the Meaning of Grades

Survival of the Fittest

On the same day that I lost an lengthy post on my experience with comprehensive assessment as a means of focusing classroom learning around the engagement of each student’s role in the group, Dave Truss used as inspiration for his post, Chasing the A, a link to an extensive student blog post: Why our education system is failing. Written in the fiery throat of youth, it is a lengthy tirade against competitive education with an emphasis placed upon the lifelong implications of bad grades:

Education is about unleashing one’s confidence. Education is learning from failure. Education is growing from experience. Education is discovering your passions then pursuing them. Education is not rote memorization. Education is not analyzing books that have no meaning to you. Education is not wasting your time on subjects you hate. Education is not being paralyzed because your afraid to fail.

In his comment to the above post, Dave makes a case for the intrinsic human compassion schools must foster is compromised in lieu of competition:

Marks seem to take our attention away from what matters. I find it funny that we can assess young kids without grades and then around Grade 3 we suddenly start indoctrinating students into the paradigm of good marks = success…. and the really important things we learn in Kindergarden about sharing, respecting and loving one another, as well as communicating how we feel and getting along with each other, suddenly takes a back seat to achieving some sort of success beyond these things that really matter.

My own remarks, as posted as a comment on Dave’s Pair-A-Dimes Blog, are these:

Amen, to both of you. Teaching the TALONS we espouse that real learning can seldom be measured by something so crude as numbers, and make a distinction between marks-for-report cards and expectations that go beyond the curriculum on a personal level: the real challenges in our class – as the real challenges of life – involve reflection and risk, a personal investment that is not met where there is a tangible fear of failure (with ramifications that could ruin into “YOUR ENTIRE LIFE!”). When posed with the inevitable report card, I have found that comprehensive assessment activities have been the most effective in personalizing and empowering learning, while giving an honest reflection of the student’s comprehension of the government’s outcomes. I have students discuss how they went about learning about the topic, sharing strategies and taking ownership over the process. Those who invest throughout the project rise to the occaision, when they must speak to their committment to their learning,and can refer to specific examples of their engagement, while those who may have passively studied only textbook and peer-generated notes package will contribute less to a conversation about ’shared’ learning. Which all works fine and well in a classroom where the students are peers for two years, who share responsibilites for class trips, events, and community service projects. While some more linear thinkers balk at the idea of self-assessment, and student-created criteria, I tell them that they will only have teachers for a few more years: at some point they will need to know themselves when they have done a ‘good job.’ But in a ‘mainstream’ honours class I taught this past school year, creating such an environment of collaboration and risk-taking among a class of students one year from graduation (a class which yeilded one of my all-time favourite student quotes: A girl in the class showed me her report card, bearing marks in the upper 90s through three courses (chemistry, biology, and PE) and a 92% in my English course. “I know this isn’t my best class,” she said. “But I don’t think it’s my 92-class.” Sigh.). Conversations were guarded, and essay topics seldom shared; more than once a week – even several weeks from report cards – I had discussions with individual students concerned about their grade; report card times were a flood of offers to ‘make up’ marks, ‘rewrite,’ and on and on. In my opinion, grades spoil the true potential of student learning. Having seen many of my friends, intelligent, ambitious, creative and successful friends make liars of many of our teachers, counsellors & administrators, I feel strongly that what we choose to measure in school is a far cry from what we seek to achieve. Thanks for making me realize this is not my lone opinion!

Networked Teaching: A First Installment

I teach a two-year gifted program which covers the curriculums of English 9, 10 and 11* (if there are capabable learners), Social Studies 9 and 10 1, Math 9, 10 & 11* (again, with the proper students), Science 9 and 10, as well as ministry-mandated Career and Personal Planning, and extra-elective Leadership 11 2.

I have taught in this highly flexible and interdisciplinary environment for two years now, and have found great traction in the use of various technologies to further the aims of our program’s bedrock Betts Autonomous Learner Model, which espouses the following:

 The purpose of the model is to teach gifted learners strategies for and attitudes toward independant learning.

Autonomous Learner Model

In bits and pieces I have seen the power of collaborative work in the classroom, from Wikis to develop class notes, discussion boards to facilitate peer editing, and publishing on Wikibooks to integrating the vastness of web information and access to each individual’s area of passion or expertise. At the same time I have come to unify my own pursuits in lifelong learning around the totems of RSS, social networks and my classroom and school, where my own learning – as well as that of my students – is fueled with the cooperation and expertise of a continuous conversation about methodology and practice.

At its core our gifted program harnasses the power of community into its ethos and structure, creating an environment where teachers (facilitators, under the Betts description) and students (learners) are each striving for growth and knowledge on a daily basis. Key to the facilitator’s strength in creating such an environment, where learners are empowered to pursue their individual curiosities, is the notion of transparent learning. Past incarnations of our school’s gifted students program have seen teachers participating in Night of the Notables events, and my teaching-partner and I routinely and candidly participate in class discussions of group processes and creative writing exercises used as reflections upon our own learning with the class. Though it is unlikely that Betts foresaw today’s development in network-science which has emerged, the model clearly sees exponential potential in expanding the learning environment beyond the classroom that is facilitated with the read-write web.

Growing Networks

The shape of a social network helps determine a network’s usefulness to its individuals. Smaller, tighter networks can be less useful to their members than networks with lots of loose connections (weak ties) to individuals outside the main network. More open networks, with many weak ties and social connections, are more likely to introduce new ideas and opportunities to their members than closed networks with many redundant ties. In other words, a group of friends who only do things with each other already share the same knowledge and opportunities. A group of individuals with connections to other social worlds is likely to have access to a wider range of information. It is better for individual success to have connections to a variety of networks rather than many connections within a single network. Similarly, individuals can exercise influence or act as brokers within their social networks by bridging two networks that are not directly linked (called filling structural holes).

The power of social network analysis stems from its difference from traditional social scientific studies, which assume that it is the attributes of individual actors—whether they are friendly or unfriendly, smart or dumb, etc.—that matter.

Social Network: Facts, Discussion Forum and Encyclopedia Article

Clarence Fisher writes eloquently in response to the above:

What does this look like in a classroom? The smaller, tight social network mentioned at the beginning of the piece would be the students immediately present in the single space of one classroom. Certainly a useful network and one able to share it’s knowledge. But as it states in the quote: “a group of friends who only do things with each other already share the same knowledge and opportunities.” This network needs to grow and expand in order for new ideas and opportunities to emerge. Our students need their own networks outside of the immediate classroom and this often terrifies people involved with formal education. We are used to the role of being the finder and provider of all information in our spaces. We tend to see ourselves as the channel from which unknown information comes flowing into our classrooms.

But this is not right. We are not a network by ourselves. We are one node in a network.

Remote Access

 Across a variety of units this year I had students undertake various pieces of networked learning: contacting experts across the globe, producing reliable web-information themselves, as well as collecting and investigating areas of interest in individualized and self-directed units where accountibility is placed most prominently at the peer or self level. But in a manner that has mirrored the stumbling development of my own personal learning network – which I see to some degree culminated in the creation of this blog – I have failed to see the means by which I might incorporate the diverse threads of classroom web tools and resolutely demolish the boundaries separating my stude- learners’ study of Socials and English 3, unifying not only each learner’s course of study in what shape up as busy semesters, but presenting each facilitator as truly that:

fa·cil·i·ta·tor
Pronunciation: fə-ˈsi-lə-ˌtā-tər Function: noun 
: one that facilitates ; especially : one that helps to bring about an outcome (as learning, productivity, or communication) by providing indirect or unobtrusive assistance, guidance, or supervision <the workshop’s facilitator kept discussion flowing smoothly>
Merriam Webster

 As echoed in Bloom’s taxonomy (another model which extrapolated to include the prospects of the digital age suits the predictability required of a sound theory), the scope of ambition required to enable consistent higher-order questioning is attainable through the networked learning prized by many prominent educational technology thinkers. The notion, too, that the act of watching someone learn enables learning, is key to the practice sought in such learning environments. Beneath the disparate pieces of my implemenation of networked learning, there lies a unifying purpose in synthesis that enacts the varied philosophies which ground my current teaching and learning. As I look toward summer, and the prospect of my third year of gifted teaching, I hope to form the construct of a learning environment that begins and ends in the classroom, and the personal bonds which are forged through the nurturing of an immediate social network, but which is fueled through the connections available in the fostering of individual networks across the globe.

World Wide Web

To this end I will be attempting to enact Clarence’s Five Ideas for Moving in this Direction:

1.) Give your students time to find connections with people and content around the globe. If we want them to be connected, we must make this a priority. They need time to search, to surf, and to read, watch and listen to content made by others. Don’t see this as “extra.”

2.) Have conferences with the students in your class on a regular basis about who they are reading, watching and listening to. Ask questions. “Why are you reading that? What have you learned from that source lately?”

3.) Help your students to find new nodes of connection. Make regular contact with other teachers and classes around the globe who are prosumers of digital content. Keep a blogroll, an email list, a delicious account, etc. Knowing your students better than anyone else, you can make suggestions to them about people they might enjoy reading.

4.) Allow your students to have individual networks they work with. This is vital. They all don’t need to be subscribing to and reading the same content. A larger, loose network will allow ideas from different parts of the globe to flow into your space. While as the teacher you certainly need to be ensuring that your students are safe online and reading information that is appropriate for your place, encourage them to add additional sources of information outside of those that you have officially sanctioned.

5.) Content comes to us in all sorts of modes. Don’t restrict yourself and your students to just reading blogs. Find news sources from around the world, YouTube channels, podcasts, flick groups and delicious accounts. Kids need to learn how to locate content in all of its forms and dig out the valuable pieces of it. They need to learn how to filter information more and schools need to filter it less.

  1. These first five are taught by myself.
  2. The maths and sciences are evaluated by my teaching partner, while we share our observations of class activities and projects to evaluate Planning and Leadership
  3. Why stop there, though: student-based personal network learning could unify the breadth and scope of all of our myriad sujects.

Everyday Pro-D vs. Pro-D Every Day

“Certainly there are many models of spaces where kids can learn. From museums to home schooling situations, there are many models that are possible. But when it comes to the formal learning space, I’m starting to think that we are spending huge amounts of energy and dollars in the wrong place. We pump millions of dollars into schools and hope for the trickle down model of success. We support buildings and programs, hoping that teachers will “buy – in.” Of course there are great models of individual PD where teachers are supported on an ongoing basis to change and be successful. But I still think that most of our time, energy and dollars are being spent at the divisional and the school level.”

Remote Access – Replicating Classrooms

Last Thursday I saw a post on Twitter alerting me to more goings on at Karl Fisch’s Fischbowl: it seems Anne Smith’s English class (whom I’d been following whilst she and Karl arranged for “virtual” school board members to participate on ninth grade students’ presentations arguing in favour or against traditionally contested andor banned novels) had arranged to Skype conference with Little Brother author Cory Doctorow (download Little Brother).  I first heard Doctorow’s name a month ago, “lurking” in Ms. Quach’s English 12 Band online discussion board as the class debated several titles, and heard more than a few times of the ferocious conversation Little Brother had sparked in bookclubs that freckled our local suburban coffeehouses (as per the requirements of the assignment!). I passed along Karl’s 140 character message, and later that same day saw that Cindy had set up her students to join the video chat this coming week.

Retweet vb: (within the Twitter community) A social gesture indicating the endorsement of an idea. See: The most Re-Tweeted urls on the Net

I had a post on the go – which morphed into the tutorials post below, but may still somewhere see the light of day – which discussed the inability of school and district based professional development to meet the diverse learning needs of any community of teachers. As I mentioned with relation to Mr. Nabokov, teachers must represent the totality of human diversity to meet education’s democratic ideals, and in this sense a few scattered days across the school year – where oftentimes a sense of obligation creates apathy resulting in, say, a school district changing its Pro-D schedules such that large swaths of teachers wouldn’t be able to slip out at lunch – is a paltry effort to maintain the perpetual and individual development of myriad teacher-learners.

The hair used to stand up on the back of my neck when student-teachers in my PDP module would ask what to do in specific classroom situations – “If a student says…” “When I’m marking a test…” Our job is not one for which one can be prepared through rigorous ‘training,’ and such questions were the mark of future practitioners who would see their diplomas – no doubt in the same light they would see their recent 45′ pro-d session on assessment – as a badge that might somehow mark the terminus of their growth and learning.  This is the same thinking that believes education is about answers and not questions, and that there might be a theoretical ‘finish line’ somewhere that we might cross unto the safety of steady employment, a committed relationship, corporate ascension, or the lofty dreams of retirement. But such thoughts undercut the truth that learning is about questions and uncertainty, neither of which we should seek to end if we are to grow and learn, and which each must be supported more consistantly than once every-other month.

Fittingly, it is Twitter which brings this post full-circle, as the above ‘tweet’ set off a post by Will Richardson entitled, “Continual, Collaborative, On the Job Learning,” which addressed the idea of professional development on an individual, daily basis. Timely, in that our English Department was leaping, at the very moment, into the prospect of a blog to communicate amongst ourselves about all things teacherly (only to be followed shortly after by this effort, as well as Cindy’s), as it seemed the final piece in the ‘Network Puzzle’ of Rss feeds, Twitter, Bookmarks, and Wikis in our classrooms. Speaking for all of us who have discovered this new realm of Pro-D, Cindy  remarked in one of the Dept. blog’s first posts:

“I have learned and reflected upon my practice more intensely and willingly in the last two weeks then I have in the last two years.  I have read fresh research, connected to educators from around the world, had conversations and asked questions.  The more I learn, the more I want to learn. “

Doesn’t sound like your everyday pro-d.

 

What is School's Job?

Nabokov“So here we have three different worlds—three men, ordinary men who have different realities— a world completely different from the rest since the most objective words tree, road, flower, sky, barn, thumb, rain have, in each, totally different subjective connotations.  Indeed, this subjective life is so strong that it makes an empty and broken shell of the so-called objective existence.  The only way back to objective reality is the following one: we can take these several individual worlds, mix them thoroughly together, scoop up a drop of that mixture, and call it objective reality.  We may taste in it a particle of madness if a lunatic passed through that locality, or a particle of complete and beautiful nonsense if a man has been looking at a lovely field and imagining upon it a lovely factory producing buttons or bombs; but on the whole these mad particles would be diluted in the drop of objective reality that we hold up to the light in our test tube.  Moreover, this objective reality will contain something that transcends optical illusions and laboratory tests.  It will have elements of poetry, of lofty emotion, of energy and endeavor (and even here the button king may find his rightful place), of pity, pride, passion—and the craving for a thick steak at the recommended roadside eating place. So when we say reality, we are really thinking of all this—in one drop—an average sample of a mixture of a million individual realities.”

Nabokov’s Metamorphosis

In teaching social studies I marvel at the simple yet powerful notion of democracy, as it allows the expression of each of our subjective opinions in within Nabokov’s “one drop.” I revel at the opportunity to teach the act of communication, and be a member of a global, professional body of individuals whose goal is the exercising of the above-described ‘objectivity.’

For Nabokov’s objectivity to be realized though is to realize the paradox of Einstein’s relativity (one degree of separation between Nabokov & Einstein: a productive Monday morning!): the more we know about the object’s speed, the less accurately we know its location, and visa versa. Any definition we seek – for Truth in the religious sense, to the tenor of our elected officials and the implementation of our education systems – must be constantly reevaluated, recalibrated and ready at every moment to be torn down to make way for the New.

In the above vein, I hereby open this blog to the ongoing discussion of the question which fuels the pursuit of Educational Truth, and provides the title of this post: What is School’s Job?

A few answers in the form of an initial “Best of the Web” style posting:

A. Literacy 

·         McSweeny’s Syllabus: Writing for Non-Readers in a Post-Print Era

·         The Elements of Style Turns 50

·         21stCentury Literacies and the Direction of our Schools

·         Qu’est que c’est? Diigo

·         How the e-Book will change the way we read and write

B. Creativity

·         Sir Ken Robinson says Schools Kill Creativity

·         Tim Brown links Creativity and Play

·         Genius = Creativity

C. University?

·         Globe and Mail is Skeptical about Students being College-Ready

·         Japanese Pre-Schoolers Experience Exam Hell

·         You Talkin’ to Me? High Schools not doing their job

D. Represent & Maintain Culture

·         Technology Generation Gap: Gen Y vs. The Boomers

·         Network Education @ Golden Swamp

·         Jeff Utecht on the Culture of Availability

·         Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

·         Book ATM Changes Face of Book Buying

·         The Georgia Straight on Artists’ Copyrights

·         Dave Eggers on Public Schools